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Carroll County is one step closer to allowing certain organizations to hold casino event fundraisers after the bill was passed in the House of Delegates late Monday night, but other pieces of legislation will likely be left for dead after not crossing over to a second chamber by the General Assembly's self-imposed deadline.

While the chances of a bill making it out of one chamber into the other are slim after the crossover day, which was Tuesday, it is not impossible, said Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5.

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"[The crossover day] is not in law. It's a policy and a procedure," he said. "It doesn't mean you can't get a bill through later. It's sort of arbitrary; without it, there would be chaos."

The House and the Senate have passed separate versions of a gaming bill that will allow casino event fundraisers in Carroll County — the first time in eight years that both chambers have successfully done so.

House Bill 280, introduced by the Carroll County delegation, passed in the House late Monday night by a vote of 139-1.

HB 280 had received a favorable report by the House's Ways and Means Committee and passed its second reading with amendments on Friday.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 4, passed that chamber 47-0 on Jan. 21 after receiving a favorable report by the Budget and Taxation Committee.

The two most significant differences between the bills are the age limit set to either participate or operate a casino event and which agency would be responsible for forwarding financial reports to the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.

HB 280 mandates operators and participants in such events be 21 years old, while SB 4 would set the minimum age at 18. In addition, the House bill would require the Carroll County Board of Commissioners to deliver the organization's financial report regarding the event to the appropriate state agencies, while the Senate bill would make it the responsibility of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

Ready said HB 280 was introduced earlier in the year when he was still a delegate, and he still supports it.

"My focus will be getting the House bill back through the Senate, and we'll go from there," Ready said.

A bill calling for significant Public Information Act reform passed both chambers on Wednesday morning, a day after crossover.

SB 695, introduced by Montgomery County Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-District 20, seeks to address complaints from citizens, journalists and organizations that have had PIA requests denied, have alleged arbitrary and prohibitive charges for requests or have had requests for fee waivers improperly denied.

It has been cross-filed in the House as HB 755, and would create a Public Information Act Compliance Board that would issue written opinions concerning potential violations. The bill would also instill the board with the power to waive fees, levy fines against public bodies that violate the act and order the custodian of the requested records to produce said documents.

It received a favorable report with amendments from the Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and passed its second reading Tuesday.

The bill passed the Senate, 47-0, but has not been referred to a House committee as of Wednesday night, according to the General Assembly's website.

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Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, said the problem with HB 755 is that fines against government agencies would be paid with tax dollars.

"It's not going to come out of the individual agency's pocket; it's going to come out of the taxpayers'," Shoemaker said. "They are burdened enough as is."

He said he is not opposed to the concept of such a board, but he would need to take a closer look at its powers and how easily it could levy a fine.

A separate bill, HB 867, introduced by Baltimore Del. Jill Carter, D-District 41, would also create a compliance board but without the power to levy fines. It received an unfavorable report by the House's Health and Government Operations Committee and has since been withdrawn.

Clock strikes midnight for other legislation

Multiple bills filed by Carroll legislators from District 4 that sought to amend existing late-term abortion laws, have been stifled in their corresponding committees.

HB 961, filed by Del. Barrie Ciliberti, R-District 4, and cross-filed in the Senate as SB 511 by Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, would have prohibited abortions — except in medical emergencies — if a doctor had determined the fetus was 20 weeks or older. Del. Kathy Afzali, R-District 4, filed a separate bill, HB 492, that would have set the same age limit and cited recent medical research that she said proves unborn children can feel pain at 20 weeks.

As of Wednesday afternoon, none of these bills had been brought up for a vote in their respective committees, and Ciliberti said he's under the impression there is enough opposition to prevent them from making their way to the floor.

Another piece of legislation expected to die in committee is HB126, which would have allowed the Carroll County Sheriff's Office to intercept tax refunds of those who have open arrest warrants in the county. It was introduced by the Carroll County delegation and cross-filed by Ready as SB 720 with the support of Sen. Gail Bates, R-District 9, and Hough.

Afzali said the House is killing the bills because they want to study these programs before taking any vote.

"We aren't happy, but we will pass a bill that will study the program and re-introduce the bill next year," she said.

HB 222, meanwhile, would make the direct or indirect distribution of heroin or fentanyl if it leads to the death of another a new crime punishable by up to 30 years imprisonment. It was recommitted to the House's Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Such a move essentially signals a problem with the bill and that the committee doesn't believe it will pass, Ready said, but they don't want it to be killed.

"Usually it doesn't come back to the floor, but I've seen it happen," he said.

Ready, who sits on the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, which reviewed SB 303, said some members of the committee believed it would be inappropriate to place such strict penalties on the distribution of one drug and not do the same for others. The Judicial Proceedings Committee gave the bill an unfavorable report and the bill has been withdrawn from the Senate.

The fate of a bill introduced by Del. Susan Krebs, which would require all government agencies that abide by open meetings laws to provide agendas for their meetings, has yet to be decided. The House's Health and Government Operations Committee, which was assigned to review HB 583, has yet to vote on the bill since its hearing March 11.

Several phone calls to the committee were not returned by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

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